Claire Pepper is an award-winning fashion and fitness photographer with a crushing obsession over beautiful cycling tops. This month she launched new company Omnium which bodes well for the UK, aimed at people who gush over good graphic design, sharing smaller brands from around the world and including women’s kit. And let’s not get started on the cat caps which are making an appearance.
Omnium brings together smaller brands from around the world, finding new kit from smaller companies and people running their own cycling projects. The US and Canada currently have a surge in smaller cycling brands – like Forward Cycling, who I interviewed last year. Claire and partner, Jonathan Gales, are bringing their favourite small cycling projects together from around the world. Mostly, it’s tiny upstart brands they’re meeting. “There’s a market of mid-sized brands who are doing quite nice stuff. I don’t know that many small brands in the UK, and we’ve found lots of small brands abroad. That’s what we’re interested in.”
Claire graduated from the University of Brighton studying photography, and has been snapping sports, fashion and fitness shots for brands like Nike, Adidas and Fashercise. Boyfriend Jono runs an animation film studio. They’re both keen cyclists who wanted to do something about getting decent kits in to the UK. They’re meeting the people behind the smaller projects, with the aim of making them more accessible in the UK. “We’ve found that most people we’ve met are graphic designers or creative people and they’re doing their brands as a side project of a creative project for them. That’s what we’re interested in, but at the same time, the standards being really high and high performance technology. That’s our criteria.”
Omnium have a mixture of US, Canadian and Australian brands right now, with two from Europe. They’re all gorgeous. She pulls out the Spektrum jersey by Angeles Creative: “It’s my favourite thing by them.”
She’s keen to make rad cycling kit easy to buy. “That’s basically our remit: non-embarrassing cycling kit.”
Looking through their kit, I ask if geometric patterns are a trend? “Yes” she says, but rather than being trend-focused it’s stocked in a completely subjective way. “It’s mostly based on our own taste. “We want people to go on the site and think ‘Woah! I love everything.’ Obviously not everyone’s going to have the same taste but we like to think we’ve picked a good selection. It has a coherent feel and it is a certain type of style.”
Claire talks through her other favourite pieces and it’s nice to hear some solutions to frequent cycling kit gripes. “Normally base layers are horrible wife-beater vests” she says, waving a gorgeous base top about before selecting some of her favourite jerseys to talk about.
Not very wife beater-like
Twin Six are the brand that make a jersey for Art Crank every year. As she shows me the winding, weird print that Twin Six have designed for the art show, Claire gives me a quick schooling on European and American sizing as she talks through the different brands.
“The Twin Six jerseys have their own cut that they’ve developed that’s somewhere between what they call a European cut and what they call an american cut. Normally an american cut is a bit more baggy like a mountain bike jersey. A European cut is quite tight. An American road jersey would be a little bit baggy whereas a European one would be cut to be skin tight. The TwinSix one they’ve developed their own shape which is a line that’s between the two.”
The well-known frustration with a lack of women’s kit created by bigger brands is there. Too often there’s a rad kit for guys but no female version. Claire knows it. “I hate going on a site and being like ‘ooh that’s really cool’ then the women’s stuff is different.”
For shorts on the bike and in spin classes, some of the women’s kit will make the ‘activewear crowd’ happy too, with some super eye-catching fun shorts – and jerseys to match, if inclined. “I think it’s nice to wear something fun to spin,” Claire says, something that’s both cool and solved the problem of often ‘horrendously uncomfortable’ spin class. She wants to solve the bias bib shorts trend, keeping an eye out for rad shorts for women, too.
I ask her about her own cycling, which involves Claire initially alluding to having only really become more serious about cycling because of boyfriend Jono but it’s a love that’s clearly grown into something bigger.
London life started on a “lovely but really heavy” hefty town bike, prompted by Jono to upgrade to a Bianchi ’90s steel frame for a last minute place in Ride London. She did the 100 mile, without much training and having never done more than 30 miles in one ride before and starting in the wrong wave – “the first 50 miles was just massive guys just passing me.”
She proudly shows me a picture of her bike on her mobile. It makes me really happy when people have photos of their bikes to hand. She grins: “It’s literally the single one thing in my life that gives me the most enjoyment. I’m not going to feel silly about spending money on it. Within reason..”
Still grinning, she talks about the accident she was in the year before, that made the newspapers and left her with a broken collarbone. It’s an accident she doesn’t remember because of the concussion, which means it’s easy to talk about.
“It’s shit to break a collarbone.”
She’s had a smaller accident since which shook her up more because she can remember sliding off the bike, but smiles when she talks about feeling her confidence returning during Ride London. “Every time I made it down the hill without crashing, I felt a bit better and was really pleased to get to the end even though my body hurt so much.”
She followed Ride London up with the tough London to Littlehampton route I’d concocted and shared the previous summer. “It was pretty savage… I loved it though.”
Claire does an unabashed cycling grin, and puts her phone full of photos away.
“I’d rather spend money on a bike than almost any other possession. It’s your key to experiences that make life worth living.”